There was in ancient Rome a street called Argiletus, which we learn from Martial was occupied principally by booksellers. Here those works which are cherished not alone for their antiquity, and some others possibly as good but which in the misfortunes of many centuries have disappeared, were bought fresh from their authors' hands and sold to the eager lovers of literature. Here, when a new piece by Virgil or Horace was announced, the reading public would flock, urged by the most commendable form of curiosity known to the cultured human mind. Here hundreds of scribes were employed in the multiplication of copies of those classics over which in later days have labored scores of generations of youthful students, with deep regret that those classics were not written in their own mother tongue. Those shops, or taberna libraria, were the lounging places of the famous men who created this literature and of those who did good service to posterity by constituting themselves the patrons of the geniuses of their age, who otherwise would have been as indigent and as barren as are the neglected authors of our own times. The men and women who received an ancient author in the name of a poet are entitled to receive a poet's reward. In the shops of Secundus and the Sosii brothers, the literati of Rome and their admirers gathered to indulge in that most fascinating of all conversational intercourse: book talk.
While it is probable that the presence of women was not so marked and frequent in these haunts of the cultured fraternity as it is in the book shops and publishing houses of modern times, this does not signify that the ladies of Rome did not take a deep and influential interest in literature. Did not Augustus dedicate a public library in the name of his sister Octavia? There was in the Roman world a reading public so great as to appear to us nothing less than marvellous in view of the lack of the printing press; but slaves who could be set to copying were plentiful, and if a lady wished a copy of the poems of Propertius or Catullus she could procure it for a small sum in the street Argiletus, or she could borrow it from a friend and have it transcribed at home.
Great attention was paid to the education of girls in Greek and Latin literature. Even those of the poorer class received this instruction; for such an accomplishment, especially if assisted by personal attractions, often availed in place of a rich dowry to secure a desirable match. Women also were not rare who, like Sempronia, could write verses of sufficient merit to be mentioned by the serious historians of their times, though unfortunately their productions have not been preserved to us. Mommsen, commenting on the flood of literature which characterized the period of the commencement of the Empire, assures us that "The female world also took a lively part in these literary pursuits; the ladies did not confine themselves to dancing and music, but by their spirit and wit ruled conversation and talked excellently on Greek and Latin literature; and when poetry laid siege to a maiden's heart, the beleaguered fortress not seldom surrendered likewise in graceful verses. Rhythm became more and more the fashionable plaything of the big children of both sexes."
If it can be shown that the law of the "survival of the fittest" operates with any degree of inevitability in the preservation of books, we shall be obliged to conclude that few of the writings that owed their existence to the lady authors of ancient Rome were remarkable for their merit. It is difficult even to indulge a natural desire to be gallant by assuming that to the accidents of time may be attributed the loss of much that was worthy of preservation; for the number of female writers who are mentioned in contemporary works as having attained to any great degree of excellence in authorship is remarkably limited. Some, however, there are. Pliny says: "Pompeius Saturninus has lately read to me some letters he says are from his wife. I fancied myself listening to Plautus or Terence in prose. Whether they are his wife's, as he affirms, or his own, as he denies them to be, he is entitled to equal credit: in the one case, for producing such compositions; in the other, for transforming his wife, a mere girl when he married her, into such a learned and finished woman." Martial also tells of a young woman who, he says, had the eloquence of Plato, the austerity of the Porch, and composed verses worthy of a chaste Sappho. Sidonius Apollinaris recites a list of Latin poetesses; but of them all there is only one whose work may be read at the present time. We do not refer to Balbilla, who wisely engraved her verses and also her genealogy upon the leg of the statue of Memnon; the fact that these have endured is attributable solely to the lasting nature of the medium upon which they were written.
Sulpicia, the only Roman poetess whose work is still extant and well authenticated, lived in the time of the Emperor Domitian. She came of a famous patrician family, many members of which had been able men of affairs in their time. She was a great and highly respected friend of the poet Martial, to whose two epigrams on herself and her husband we are indebted for almost all that we know of this talented woman. Her husband's name was Calenus; and with him she lived for fifteen years, in a felicity of reciprocated conjugal affection which, notwithstanding the degeneracy of the age, seems to have been ideal. Martial bears testimony not only to her surpassing ability as a votary of the poetic muse, but also to the fact that in her life and character she exemplified a purity such as would beautify any age or society.
There is in existence but one poem known to have been written by Sulpicia; it was called forth by an act of tyranny which she rebuked with as much beauty as spirit. During the reign of Domitian, the philosophers were banished from Rome by edict of the emperor. Those against whom this measure was particularly directed were of the Stoic school; this fact helps to explain the cause of their expulsion and also the poem which Sulpicia wrote upon the occasion. Their tenets inculcated an independence of thought and manner which was entirely at variance with that servility which could allow the people to rest peacefully under the despotism of such a ruler as was Domitian. The philosophers were considered, and probably justly so, a menace to the government of the tyrant. Whether Sulpicia was directly connected with these people and whether she was included in the edict of banishment, we do not know; in any case, it is quite clear that her sympathies were entirely with the expelled philosophers. Her satire on this incident bewails the weakness that had evidently fallen upon the Roman race, causing men to submit so easily to such tyranny as that to which her friends were subjected. She asks if "the Father of the Gods" is about to allow the Romans to revert to primeval barbarism, "to stoop again to acorns and the pure stream"; or if he has forsaken them for the care of other nations. She declares that "adversity alone is salutary for a State," "for when the love of country urges them to defend themselves by arms, and to regain their wives, held prisoners with their household gods, they combine like wasps when their home and citadel is assaulted." Then she implores her divine patroness that at least her husband may not be unwilling to abandon this inglorious ease and to leave Rome and its vicinity, since all the good and estimable have been driven from it. The poem is a noble, high-spirited production; and it proves Sulpicia to have been a woman of extraordinary intelligence and a fearless exponent of principles and ideas which the majority of men in her time found it more convenient to forget.
Sulpicia was also the author of a poem on conjugal affection which is most highly commended by Martial; but unfortunately it has been lost. Indeed, from the reference in the beginning of her satire to her "thousand sportive effusions," we gather that she was a prolific writer and that all her poetry was not of the philosophic or didactic kind.
With this brief reference to Sulpicia, our account of woman's creative participation in Roman literature must end for want of material. The real part which the women of the Roman world played in the formation of the literature of their time must be sought rather in the view which the authors present of their character and the inspiration which the poets drew from their love and friendship. That is to say, we meet the Roman woman in the poetic art of her nation as the model and also as the motive, but not as the artist. But it is very essential that we should give attention to both these phases of feminine life. Hitherto we have dealt only with historic personages, and those of the highest class; to obtain a complete view of the Roman woman, it is necessary to see her in that broader light in which she is sketched by the makers of other literature than history. And in order that our attention may not be confined to the women of one class, we must take notice of those ladies of whom the poets sing and to whom they address their effusions.
First let us consider the woman drawn by Roman creative art. In her image, as it is portrayed in literature, we see the real person of flesh and blood, as she appeared to the literary artists. Virgil says: "Woman is a fickle and ever changeable creature;" and yet he must have found in the women of his time the qualities with which he endowed Queen Dido. She is a Roman woman, because she is the creation of a Roman. She is an ideal queen; yet one who governs her kingdom in the same manner in which a noble matron presided over the activities of her household, "dispensing justice and laws to her subjects" from the middle room, or atrium, of the temple, and "in equal portions distributing their tasks or settling them by lot." Furthermore, she is a true woman. She is the sole contribution of Roman poetry to that gallery of imaginary men and women who, having their existence only in literature, are immortal because they faithfully represent the real. In Dido, Virgil, though he calls her a Sidonian, shows how a woman of pagan Rome could love; and how, her heart being broken and her pride injured by rejection, she could die in the high-spirited manner peculiar to her prideful race.
But in all Latin poesy there is no other character such as Dido. When we turn to Plautus and Terence, we learn a great deal about women, but we encounter none that live and move and have a being. These authors did not lay their scenes in the houses of the patricians or in the seats of the mighty; they show us a class of women that we have not hitherto met. Having studied the highest, we now turn to the lowest stratum of Roman society. We are introduced to a class of people who traffic in female beauty; and much insight is gained into that laxity of morals which was countenanced both by the laws and customs of ancient Rome. Here we are informed of the multitude of girls who were carefully trained and educated, both in mind and person, that they might make profit for their owners by the prostitution of their charms. We meet these girls as they are being sent to school in order that, at the same time, their intellects may be developed and their commercial value enhanced. In these plays, we are shown the women of the brothel; and we are less astounded at the greatness of their number than we are at the complacency with which their existence was tolerated in Roman society. These women were principally unfortunates who had been captured in war or were born in slavery, and the only redeeming feature in the picture of their situation is the intimation that now and again one, by signal success in a bad business, might hope to earn her freedom.
It is said that because a sacrifice of virtue is made by one class of women, the members of another class are enabled to live purely. If we accept Juvenal's description of the character of the Roman women as a true one, it must be concluded that the morality of the more fortunate ladies gained little by the immorality of those who were courtesans perforce or by profession; but in satire it is essential to fasten upon the worst, and to hold it up to public ridicule as representative of the whole. There is no balance, no justice, no offsetting the indecent by that which is noble and good. The Roman woman was not at any period such a morally deformed creature as Juvenal paints her; nor could the ladies who patronized literature have been quite so disagreeable as he would have us believe. It is certain that he was not blessed with a patroness, or, in his description of the Roman "bluestocking," the shafts of satire would not have been embittered with so much prejudice. Yet, as indicating how some men regarded the devotion to belles-lettres which was affected by the women, we will quote what the great satirist says on the subject. After depicting some monstrously disagreeable females, he declares:
"But she is more intolerable yet, Who plays at critic when at table set: Calls Virgil charming, and attempts to prove Poor Dido right in venturing all for love. From Maro and Mæonides she quotes The striking passages, and, while she notes Their beauties and defects, adjusts her scales, And accurately weighs which bard prevails. The astonished guests sit mute; grammarians yield, Loud rhetoricians, baffled, quit the field; Even auctioneers and lawyers stand aghast, And not a woman speaks.--So thick and fast The wordy shower descends, that you would swear A thousand bells were jangling in your ear, A thousand basins clattering. Vex no more Your trumpets and your timbrels, as of yore, To ease the laboring moon; her single yell Can drown their clangor, and dissolve the spell She lectures too in Ethics, and declaims On the Chief Good!--but, surely, she who aims To seem too learned, should take the male array; A hog, due offering, to Sylvanus slay, And, with the Stoic's privilege, repair To farthing baths, and strip in public there. Oh, never may the partner of my bed With subtleties of logic stuff her head; Nor whirl her rapid syllogisms round, Nor with imperfect enthymemes confound. Enough for me. If common things she know, And boast the little learning schools bestow. I hate the female pedagogue, who pores O'er her Palaemon hourly; who explores All modes of speech, regardless of the sense, But tremblingly alive to mood and tense; Who puzzles me with many an uncouth phrase From some old canticle of Numa's days; Corrects her country friends, and cannot hear Her husband solecize without a sneer."
It may be that the horror of learned women which was affected by Juvenal arose from his realization of that proverb which declares the inability of two who are engaged in the same trade to maintain intimate and happy relations. Whether or not he was so unfortunate as to learn this by personal experience, we have no means of ascertaining; but it is certain that while many of the Roman authors gained inspiration and influence from the women with whom they were connected, others discovered in their matrimonial relations a want of harmony unfavorable to the cultivation of the muse. In Terentia, for example, Cicero was burdened with a wife who entirely lacked that power of sympathy which is the glory of womanhood. Terentia did not appreciate her brilliant husband; and she could not anticipate the honor in which she might have been held by posterity, had she proved herself the devoted wife of so famous a man. But, after all has been said, she probably knew Cicero better than he is known by posterity. He alleged that she was so overbearing that at last he was compelled to divorce her; but in Terentia the old adage was justified which says that what is one man's poison is another man's pleasure, for, being repudiated by Cicero to the great relief of himself, she was at once accepted by the historian Sallust; and in as much as there appears to have been no other motive for their union, it seems probable that the bond between them was that of sentiment.
Then there was that other Terentia, who was such a trial to the patience of Mæcenas, the great patron of literature in the days of Augustus. Her he repudiated so often, and yet received back so regularly, that it was said of him that he had been married a thousand times, and yet all the while had but one wife.
There was another class of women which furnished many of the names intimately connected with Roman poetry, not for what these women themselves did, but because of their intimate relations with the poets. As the exquisite tracery of primordial ferns is sometimes found embedded in the carboniferous strata, so these women, whose names would otherwise have perished with their generation, were, by the chances of their birth and fortune, brought into connection with literary men, and their memory has thus been preserved in Latin poesy. It is to Martial himself that we are indebted for the information that, returning to his country home after many years of absence in Rome, he finds comfort for the lack of his urban pleasures and conveniences in the society of Marcella, a lady of uncommon intellectual development and grace of person. Her relation to the poet was rather that of patroness than mistress. It would seem unimportant either way; yet she assisted in the production of literature more durable than the Empire, and her name is known to posterity.
Every reader of Horace knows of Lydia, Glycera, Phyllis, and Barine. Who were they? To have found them in that ancient Rome, it would have been necessary to go, not to houses such as have been described as the homes of the imperial women, but to those insulæ, or huge tenements, in which the great mass of the people lived. There these women inhabited one room or many, according as their poverty or wealth would warrant. The latter depended largely upon their youth and beauty; for these women were light-o'-loves, who were inured to the changes and chances of their position, and could turn from one lover to another with as few heart pangs as were suffered by their inconstant friends. In many cases, they were the daughters of unnaturalized foreigners, whom Roman citizens could not marry and to whom no lot other than that of the mistress was open. That such women were the intimates of Horace is revealed by the manner in which he descants in his Satires on the danger attending liaisons with married women--so also is the sincerity of that affection to which he swears in his Odes. Speaking of those ladies who were not eligible for marriage bonds, he says: "When I am in the company of such an one, she is my Ilia and Ægeria; in short, I give her any tender name."
The favorite of Horace seems to have been Lydia, of whose undistinguished fame he tells, but does not inform us on what account she was famous. Among the amorous epistles in which he addresses her, there is more than one that reveals his jealous knowledge of the fact that he is not the sole recipient of her favors. As a punishment for her occasional inhospitable treatment of him, he writes an insulting ode in which it is averred that she has grown too old for lovers and that her slumbers will no more be disturbed by the serenade. Horace possessed the ability, and did not lack the meanness, to castigate these women in his poetry after the most shameful manner; and that not for their moral delinquencies, but because of the suspension of their preferences for himself. Witness the manner in which he gloats over the fading of the charms of Lyce, who had sometime disdained his advances: "Wrinkles and snowy hair render you odious. Now neither Coan purples nor sparkling jewels restore those years which winged time has inserted in the public annals. Whither is your beauty gone? Alas! or whither your bloom? Whither your graceful deportment? What have you remaining of her, of her who breathed loves and ravished me from myself? Happy in accomplishments next to Cynara, and distinguished for an aspect of graceful delicacies. But the Fates granted but a few years to Cynara, intending to preserve Lyce for a long time, to rival in years the aged raven; that the fervid young fellows might see, not without excessive laughter, that torch, which once so brightly scorched, now reduced to ashes."
As a finale at once to his love epistles and amorous relationships, he invites Phyllis to an entertainment in his country villa on Maecenas's birthday; and among the provisions for this festive occasion he mentions a caskful of Albanian wine, upward of nine years old, besides parsley for the weaving of chaplets, and ivy to bind her hair. "Come, then, last of my loves: learn with me such measures as you may recite with your lovely voice; our gloomy cares shall be mitigated with an ode."
Through Ovid we learn of Corinna, who was his mistress and the heroine of his love elegies; but his passion for her was no more sincere than we should expect from that manual of libertinism--his Ars amatoria. This work is the glorification of animalism and indirectly a defamation of woman. It assumes with the most undisguised frankness that the root and source of the principal part of the attention which men pay to women is their availability for the purpose of satisfying amatory desire, and it alleges the theory that any woman will capitulate the citadel of her honor, if only it be besieged with indefatigableness and resource. It was by such poetry as this that the women of Rome were prepared for that carnival of vice into which they threw themselves with such frenzied abandonment in the days of Claudius and Nero. In the eroticism of Latin poetry is revealed a society in which illicit love is put to the experiment; in Roman history is made manifest the resulting moral chaos.
The master of this school was Catullus; and he immortalized one Lesbia, who was the principal heroine in his love poems. It has been said by one of the best-informed students of Roman literature that the poems of Catullus to Lesbia are unique in Roman letters for the intensity and self-oblivion of the passion they portray. We learn from Apuleius that Clodia was the real name of Lesbia; and it is supposed that the latter name was given her by her lover because of his admiration of the Lesbian poetess. Many have concluded from the statement of Apuleius that Lesbia was the notoriously fascinating sister of Clodius, the woman whom Cicero so mercilessly pilloried before the judges; but the possibility of this seems to be precluded by the fact that Catullus incited a poem to Cicero in which he terms him the "best of all advocates "--a courtesy which hardly could have been overlooked or forgiven by the woman to whom the advocate had given such ample cause for hatred.
Many of Catullus's brightest pieces are addressed to Lesbia; but all are touched by the poet's consciousness of her inconstancy. At last she leaves him, and he bids her adieu in the lines which have thus been so beautifully rendered by Moore:
"Comrades and friends, with whom where'er The Fates have willed through life I've roved, Now speed ye home, and with you bear These bitter words to her I've loved.
"Tell her from fool to fool to run,
Where'er her vain caprice may call;
Of all her dupes, not loving one,
But ruining and maddening all.
"Bid her forget--what now is past-- Our once dear love, whose ruin lies Like a fair flower, the meadow's last, That feels the ploughshare's edge, and dies."
In Cynthia, whose love and beauty inspired the pen of Propertius, is seen the sympathetic helpmate as well as the mistress. She was the granddaughter of Lucius Hostius, who wrote a poem on the Illyrian War. She inherited her ancestor's love of literature, and there consequently existed between her and Propertius that fellowship in poetic labor which is the most perfect companionship known to human experience. Though of the highest type of that class of women, she was a courtesan; which accounts for the fact that the poet could not, as he desired, make her his lawful wife. Her house was situated in the Suburra, which was the centre of "Bohemian" life in Rome and the quarter especially favored by women of her class. The intimacy between her and Propertius lasted for six years; but, notwithstanding their sympathetic tastes, those years were not passed in unbroken concord. Cynthia, besides other faults, seems to have possessed a violent temper, and in some outburst of this Propertius was banished. After this, though their friendship was renewed, neither was faithful to the other. During the illness which preceded her death, they were again reconciled to each other, which fact, more than anything else, indicates the hold that Cynthia must have had upon the sincere affection of the poet. In the seventh poem of his last book, Propertius gives an account of a dream he had of Cynthia after her death; and from certain allusions therein contained it may be inferred that she left to him the duty of disposing of her property and arranging her funeral.
Women like Cynthia were not in any degree conspicuous among their contemporaries; they were nothing more than ciphers in the estimation of those great ladies who took a part in the game of politics. They are only known to us because their names chanced to be embalmed in the writings of the men whose companions they were; but from this distance, whence the names of the women of Rome may be seen as divested of that fictitious glory which was a mere accident of their birth, a Cynthia gains more interest from her connection with a poet than does a Julia from her relation to an emperor.
These women look out at us from the insulæ in which were massed the common people. We catch glimpses of their fair faces and hear somewhat of their sportive talk, but unfortunately we know little of their lives. History has not individualized the woman of the common people; literature has dressed her up in all her finery, and has posed her in natural but unusual situations. Delia, Nemesis, and Neaera, women whose love and whose loss Tibullus sang in such passionate strains, though human enough, as is attested by their fickleness, are credited with those charms which have their existence only in the imagination of a poet and in a lover's fancy.
Tibullus, unlike Horace, took his love affairs too seriously; consequently, owing to the character of the women to whom he became attached, they brought him more grief than pleasure. The first object of his affection was Delia, whose real name, according to Apuleius, was Plania. "She belonged," says Milman, "to that class of females of the middle order, not of good family, but above poverty, which answered to the Greek hetaeræ." Tibullus longed to retire with her to the undisturbed seclusion of the country. For her sake he rejected a flattering offer from his great patron Messala, who desired the poet's companionship on a martial expedition. "The bonds of a fair girl hold me captive, and I sit like a gatekeeper before her obdurate door. I care not to be praised, my Delia; only let me be with thee, and I am content to be called slow and spiritless." It would have been very surprising if the poet had been able to retain the fidelity of Delia by such arguments as these. The time had not yet come when the women of Rome did not love soldierly valor; the time never came when they were not influenced by the hope of a participation in the spoils of conquest. Shortly after the rejection of Messala's offer, the poet seems to have been obliged to leave the city; and when he returns, he finds that Delia has married; upon which, in the imagery of poetic numbers, he drowns his grief in wine. However, he soon recalls to his mind the fact that a husband is not necessarily an insurmountable barrier between himself and the lady. She must be taught how to elude observing eyes. He pretends--the wish probably being father to the thought--that he has a magic which will render them invisible. "Chant thrice, spit thrice after reciting the charm; your husband will be unable to believe the testimony of his own eyes." But Delia could not remain faithful even to such a pertinacious lover. What a moving scene is that in the fifth elegy of the first book! It is worthy of quotation, if for no other reason than that in it the poet recites the efficacious means which he has employed for the recovery of Delia, who has been ill.
"What can atone, my fair, for crimes like these? I'll bear with patience, use me as you please. Yet, by Love's shafts, and by your braided hair, By all the joys we stole, your suppliant spare. When sickness dimmed of late your radiant eyes, My restless, fond petitions won the skies. Thrice I with sulphur purified you round, And thrice the rite, with songs, the enchantress bound; The cake, by me thrice sprinkled, put to flight The death-denouncing phantoms of the night; And I nine times, in linen garbs arrayed, In silent night, nine times to Trivia prayed. What did I not? Yet what reward have I? You love another, your preserver fly."
The Romans most firmly believed that there was efficacy in odd numbers.
In the seventh elegy, the poet complains that he has been caught in his own trap; for Delia is practising upon himself those arts by which he has taught her to deceive her husband. Then he appeals to her husband to assist him in watching her and keeping her from others. This appears to be a rather bold step; but, considering the class to which Delia belonged, it is likely that her intimacy with Tibullus was no news to her spouse. The address to him is nothing more than a most exquisite piece of persiflage. From this time on, however, we hear no more of Delia.
The poet now turns to Nemesis, with whom he is no more fortunate. Besides being fickle, she is avaricious; from which fault Tibullus tries to save her, possibly not altogether without a thought of the limitation of his own means. "The girl who is good-natured and not avaricious, though she live a hundred years, shall be wept for before the blazing pyre; and some aged man, revering the memory of his old love, shall yearly deck her reared tomb with flowers, and say as he leaves it: 'Rest well and placidly, and light be the earth above thy quiet bones!'"
The third book of elegies is dedicated to Neæra. On the first of March, it was customary for the Roman women to expect presents from their husbands and lovers. Tibullus was betrothed to Neaera, and was confronted with the question as to what he should send her for a New Year's gift. The Muses inform him that the lovely are won with song; hence he determines to send her a book of his own poems. It was made of the finest paper; and upon the cover--which was yellow, the color sacred to marriage--the recipient's name was beautifully inscribed, with the dedication: Your husband that will be, chaste Neæra, sends you this little gift and begs you to accept it.
To what degree Neæra prized the volume is not known; but Tibullus was no more fortunate with her than he had been with the others. In a dream it is revealed to him that: "She who is celebrated in thy songs, the beautiful Neæra, prefers to be the bride of another." "Ah, cruel sex! woman, faithless name!" exclaims the poet; and then: "But she may be won yet; their minds are changeable."
The fourth book of poems published under his name was probably not written by Tibullus. Eleven of these poems relate to the love of Sulpicia, a Roman lady of high station, and the daughter of Valeria, the sister of Messala. She had fallen in love with a youth named Cerinthus, and these poems tell the story. It is thought by many that Sulpicia was the author of them and that, in fact, some of them are nothing other than her own letters to her lover. These "letters" are very short; but, if this supposition is correct, they are the only love poems by a Roman woman that have survived.
Thus she writes to Cerinthus from her couch, to which she is confined by a racking fever:
"On my account, to grief a ceaseless prey, Dost thou a sympathetic anguish prove? I would not wish to live another day, If my recovery did not charm my love; For what were life, and health, and bloom to me, Wore they displeasing, beauteous youth! to thee?"
There is another Roman woman who may be counted on the list of authors, and whose writings, had they only been preserved, would have proved of exceeding interest. This was the brilliant and accomplished Agrippina the Younger; a woman who was as finished a scholar as she was an experienced and successful politician. She wrote her Memoirs, not so much from a desire to make a contribution to history as to use them to blacken the character of the enemies of her house. She dipped her pen in the venom of hate and envy, and she found her material in the scandalous stories which floated about Rome, growing daily more exaggerated from an origin which no one knew. From this work of Agrippina, Suetonius and Tacitus doubtless drew much of the information which in their more serious productions blackens the character of Tiberius. It is also likely that, if it had not been for the facile and unrestrained pen of her successor, Messalina would have been known to us as a far less disreputable woman than she is made to appear.
Although there is no writing of Agrippina's extant, we do have what purports to be the speech in her defence which she made when accused by Junia Silana with a design of inciting Plautus to effect a change in the State, and, by marrying him, to regain her power in the commonwealth, which Nero had taken out of her hands. In it all we see nothing but the backbitings of two rancorous old women; but it was represented to Nero as a horrible affair. Nero's fears were so excited that it was with difficulty that he could be induced to allow his mother to survive until morning and have an opportunity to make her own defence. We have her speech as it is given by Tacitus. Possibly it is the historian's own composition; but it is exactly what we might expect from the fierce old empress-mother. And as it is certain that Seneca and Burrhus, to whom it was addressed, would have with them shorthand writers, it is not improbable that Tacitus took it from the official records. "I wonder not," said Agrippina, "that Silana, who never bore a child, should be a stranger to the affections of a mother; for, in truth, children are not so easily renounced by their parents, as adulterers are changed by a profligate. Nor, because Iturius and Calvisus, after having consumed their whole fortunes, as a last resource pay back to an old woman their services in undertaking my accusation, as an equivalent for their hire, does it follow that I am to be branded with the infamy, or that Cæsar should conceive the guilt of parricide. As to Domitia, I would thank her for all the efforts of her enmity to me, if she strove to exceed me in kindness to her nephew, my Nero. At present, by the ministration of Atimetus, her minion, and the merry-andrew Paris, she is framing a farce to fit for the stage. Where was she when I by my counsels obtained the adoption of her nephew and my son into the Claudian house? when I advanced his cause in every way necessary for getting him the Empire?--Admiring her fishponds at Baiæ." If this is Agrippina's composition, there is certainly no lack of force in it and she was preëminently an adept in the use of innuendo. We would like to have seen those Memoirs.
To turn to a pleasanter subject and introduce a more amiable, though less picturesque, character. While there were few women authors, there were many ladies who knew how to appreciate the work of their literary husbands; matrons who, in the bonds of legal marriage, were companions to their husbands in learning as well as in other things. Pliny has left us a most beautiful pen portrait of his young wife. He tells how, to please him more, she studied polite literature, learned his books by heart, set his verses to music, and accompanied them on her lyre. "How great is her anxiety," he says, "when she sees me going to speak in court, and how great her joy when I have spoken! She sets messengers about to report to her what favor and applause I have excited, and what is the result of the trial. Then whenever I recite she sits hard by, separated only from us by a curtain, and catches up with eager ears the praise bestowed on me."